By Aayushi Khandelwal
“Who shall measure the heat and the violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a women’s body?”
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Last semester when I picked up English as the concurrent subject , I did so in hope of having at least one lecture where I would not have graphs , Greek letters , unreal assumptions and tangled theories battering my poor little innocent brains. What I could not have predicted was how the some of the words there in my English text would pierce right through my heart and soul, rendering me sometimes tearful, sometimes joyous, and a few times angered and most of all determined for a change. My other subjects too invoked in these feelings, but in a very different way!
One such text was ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, an excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s work ‘A Room of My Own’. She , in here , questions the European history books (all authored by men ), that why while they were decorated with conquest and triumphs of bloody wars all won and fought only by men engraving their immortality , all women got in their share were blank spaces . While the history treated her invisible, the fiction celebrated her.”In fiction, she was of utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater.” Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona and Phaedra captured the minds and lips of their readers. A queer composite thus emerged. So which side this swing of women‘s life in bygone centuries was heavier?? In reality, well it isn’t difficult to imagine. Is it? In the 16-17 century women; European or Indian, all were woven together by systematic suppression, atrocities and anonymity.
So what would have happened to women of Shakespearian genius born in Shakespeare’s era? For this Woolf gives birth to the hypothetical sister of Shakespeare –Judith. She was as gifted as him, as curious to explore the world and as passionate and driven as him to write. But she was cursed from the start. While he honed his grammar and mastered in Horace, Vigil and Latin, she was trained to master in stitching and hemming. While he explored the wild, she choked in the smoke rising off the boiling pots. When he escaped to London to seek fortune , she was domesticated A couple year later , while on the renowned stages he exhibited his brilliance , she burned her words in fire , for to write was immoral for her gender. When he climbed the finer steps of accolades, she was being forced to marry, for how can a father deny the social conventions for the sanity of her daughter.
But her talent was not meant for anonymity. With daring courage and a heavy heart, she climbs down her house in midnight, freeing herself from bondage of marriage. London, the epicentre of literary celebration at that time, had welcomed the brother with open heart and twinkling skies; and fed his genius with success. But too her like all, it was cruel. All it fed her were bellowed laughs at her attempts , partial doors that closed at every step , greedy nefarious eyes , and finally a diabolic promise of fame from an equally diabolic man that left her with an unwanted child . And she died. Committed suicide. And yet again the world of men had won.
Though a fiction, Judith is more real than the history.
It makes you wonder .How many suffered the same fate. How many were driven crazy by their own soaring gifts and the society closing in to suffocate it? How many words that could have rivalled the greatness of Shakespeare; can be found in the ashes? How many adventures and dramas that could have been contemporaries to Twain and Dickens; are gathering dust in the withered closets of anonymity? How many tragedies written by her are still veiled in the name of the other sex?
Judith in this modern era seems like a medieval tragedy. It may be, to you and me, who are allowed and encouraged to read and write. But far off in some rural ill –lit village or maybe even in house next to you, it may not be so much fictitious. For she was cursed from the start. She was born a girl.
“After that day, Uma never got back her exercise-book. Pyarimohan had an exercise book too, filled with barbed essays expounding his elaborate theories. But there was no benefactor of human kind to seize that book and destroy it” : Rabindranath Tagore, the Exercise-Book